Saturday, March 18, 2006

Senderens

Oh yes. This week I had the glorious pleasure of dining at Senderens, the well-received (and recently 2-starred!) restaurant at la Madeleine. Senederens has received a lot of press because of the chef's unusual makeover - Jancis Robinson provides a great write-up of it here - and I have read numerous articles about it in the NYTimes, Le Monde, and the Wall Street Journal to name a few.

So you can only imagine my anticipation. As soon as we were seated, we were brought flutes of champagne and served sea urchin risotto - served in the prickly shell! Everyone in our group was awed by the presentation, and I was happily surprised by the sea urchin itself, enough so to order the asparagus and sea urchin as my appetizer. It was the first time I have eaten urchin, and some might be turned off by the sliminess of it, but I enjoyed the rich flavor that went well with the asparagus. Others appetizers on the table were the smoked salmon, which was cooked about 1 mm from the outside but yet still smoked on the inside - we marveled at how they must have done that; the open vegetable ravioli - delicious; and something made with homard (sorry, fuzzy on the details).

For my main dish I went with my usual favorite - scallops. These were served in a coconut soup that reminded me of thai dishes I have had before, skewered with ginger, zucchini and miniscule snails. The scallops were huge! I thought that the thai broth was a bit overpowering for scallops, but this type of fusion was typical of the menu. Other plates at the table were the redsnapper - very simple presentation and even a bit scant on the portions; the lamb, which looked beautiful; the vol au vent, which came in two sections - the plate, with an empty square pastry bowl and two lobster (or maybe homard) heads next to it, and the pitcher of the cream, mushroom & calves' sweetbread mixture which the waiter gracefully poured into the bowl - lovely presentation.

For dessert, I finally had a millefeuille! It was the first time that I have ever had one, and it is a shame that I had my first one at Senderens because I am sure no millefeuille will ever compare. A millefeuille is a pastry made of layers of pastry dough and cream; the ones in bakeries are usually rectangular and the layers are indistinguishable, with thick custard in between. The one I had at Senderens was nothing like your typical Millefeuille - it was quite simply perfection. The layers were very distinct - crispy, caramel-y, pastry - with layers of a fluffy light vanilla cream that melted in my mouth. This is the dessert to get if you go there. The soup of exotic fruits was beautiful, and there was also a chocolate dessert (I think it was called a coulant) that was a bit disappointing for the person who ordered it because it ended up being basically a thin layer of warmed chocolate. It was topped with orange zest and I believe that there was also cognac involved, but I think it was a letdown in comparison with the other desserts. If you're a chocoholic, however, this is the way to go.

After dessert we were brought out little platters with a chocolate truffle (sprinkled with coffee), a macaroon, and a tuile. A perfect ending.

I can't get away with writing a post about Senderens without mentioning the decor. I never went when it was Lucas Carton, so I cannot compare (not that such a comparison is even necessary). However, it seems like they kept the original art nouveau wooden inlays and light fixtures, while going for ultra-modern everywhere else. All of the seating is done in a silver vinyl-like upholstry, the dining room is lined with fiberoptic panels that change colors (lilac to gray to orange to aquamarine, etc) as you dine, and even some tables are lighted (a constant green) with the same flower design as on the panels. The ceiling is the light fixture itself - a panel that provided a dim white-grey light when we were there, but whenever I pass it in the afternoon it is red. I hated the entrance area - when viewed from inside of the restaurant it reminds me of when you board an airplane, because of the sloping grey panels and the curtain between the door and the dining room. I'm not sure if the combination works, but it's an interesting contrast to the ever-present Madeleine in the background.

All in all, as you can tell, I loved my experience here. It goes without saying that the service was excellent. Also of note is that there is no set menu, and that there are suggested drink pairings with each dish. Don't even think of going without a reservation!

Senderens
9 Place de la Madeleine
75008 Paris
01 42 65 22 90

EDIT: p.s. Hey, I went back a month later. Read about my second visit here. There's even a photo of the millefeuille!

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1 comment:

laurie said...

Hey Etienne, I have been quoting from your posts on The Paris Blog. Shoot me an e mail if you'd like to join the contributors to this site...ruenobel at yahoo.fr